Friday, July 25, 2008

“I’m Christopoher Kimball, And I’m Better Than You.”


Tania and I enjoy Christopher Kimball and his show “America’s Test Kitchen,” we watch it every Saturday, but there’s a part of me that really hates that little bow-tie wearing motherscratcher. Perhaps the “inadequate” side of me? Because that’s what he brings out every time I get one of his “letters” in my email.

They’re not really letters. He only writes when he wants to sell me something. But he disguises his pitch in a friendly, personal update on what’s been going on in the Green Mountains in Vermont where he lives. The Green Mountains is a place where time has stopped and the people live the simple life in harmony with nature, a place where you have to imagine a warm fire crackles in the corner of every home, and a tray of cornbread is warming in every wood-burning oven. They live off the land up there in the Green Mountains, and life is rough at times, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can read his entire letter at the end of this post, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you because, like Garrison Keillor, it’s marinated in saccharine and oozing with so much sentimentality that you’ll barf. So I’ve done you the favor of condensing Christopher Kimball’s letter down to a short list of what he’s been up to lately. Go Christopher!:

He and his family are constantly tangling with bears on their front porch. (Each sentence, incidentally, seems to end with a little chuckle. “Hey, they’re part of the landscape, what can you do? Hehe!”)
His mom carries a gun and isn’t afraid of no bear. Yep, moms carry guns in the Green Mountains.
He has trained his son to be an excellent marksman.
He harvested the cornfield.
He planted a vegetable garden.
He “hived” the bees.
He weeded the strawberry patch.
He harvested apples.
He tended to his pastures.
He has pointed his cows out to pasture.
He’s searching for a bull.
He bottled his maple syrup.
He made a website for his maple syrup (where you can order a bottle or two).
He has written a BBQ book (you can also buy that.)
He made brisket for 14 guests. (“It was a great lunch.” So humble.)
He took a vacation in Eastern Europe.
He has made a slide show of the photos he took in Eastern Europe.
He attended the annual fireman’s dinner.
He is friends with a turkey hunter.
His friend the turkey hunter killed a boar.
His fire department won The Woodchuck Challenge. Again.
His friend’s son is so dedicated to the fire department that he tried to leave his own wedding to help put out a fire.

And this presumably all went down in the last month? Uhhh, I got my truck washed one day. Other than that I’ve mostly just sat around getting drunk and watching hockey…

—from the desk of David Carnie

I'm guessing that Chris Kimball and his neighbors live like this. And I'm guessing that this looks WAY BETTER than where you live… you fuckin' loser.

Dear Friend of America’s Test Kitchen,

Lions, tigers, and BEARS! One of our neighbors, Jayne Stuecklin, snapped this photo of a black bear headed for the hummingbird feeder on her back porch. My mother, who in her later years had a small cabin high up in the Adirondacks, used to carry a .22 pistol with her in case she ran into a bear on her porch. They were always trying to get at the bird feeders. Of course, my mother would never shoot a bear (or anything else) but it made her feel safer.

Our neighbor Tom and I headed up to the top of the mountain to shoot clay pigeons (he has a small trap) with Charlie, my 13-year-old. Tom took the first six with a 12-gauge and missed them all, I hit a couple with my 20-gauge, and then Charlie went 12 for 13 with a .410, which is the smallest-bore shotgun you can buy. The first time one of your kids really shows you up turns out to be enormously pleasurable. (But I am going to practice a lot before our next outing!)

The corn is in, the potatoes and vegetable garden are planted, I hived my four new packages of bees, the strawberry beds are weeded, the apple trees have blossomed and dropped, and the pastures are coming back nicely. The two Randall Linebacks (the heifer and cow) are headed up to summer pasture shortly and we are looking for a bull for breeding. The maple syrup is bottled and ready to go as soon as our website is up and running. ( Everyone who has expressed interest in purchasing syrup will be notified by e-mail as soon as we are ready to ship in late June.

This time of year, I move a good deal of our cooking outside to the grill and my cookbook of choice is The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. I just made the Barbecued Brisket last weekend (for 14 guests) along with the Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw and Barbecued Baked Beans. It was a great lunch. Some of my other favorite recipes from this collection are Grilled Chicken Alla Diavola (butterflied spicy grilled chicken), Grilled Pizza (which I serve as an appetizer all summer on the patio), and Grilled Corn with Spicy Chili Butter. If you order through this letter, you can receive this book at a substantial savings — 50% off ($17.50; list price $35.00) — and just in time for summer. I highly recommend this volume.

I have sorted through our photos from the recent trip to Eastern Europe and you can view a slideshow here. Highlights are the extraordinary astronomical clock in Prague in which a skeleton - Death - strikes the hour; a family portrait taken in a funhouse mirror; and a wonderful old European pastry shop in Vienna, plus inside the café at the Hotel Sacher.

We just attended the annual Fireman's Dinner just down the road from the Cook's Country house. The gag gifts are always distributed by Merritt Morey, who gave a map to one of the youngest members of the volunteer fire department who had some trouble navigating his way to a recent brushfire. I was taken aside by Rick, a local carpenter, who was out turkey hunting recently and came across a wild boar instead (which had escaped last year from a local game farm). Sure enough he bagged it and brought it back to his wife, Laura, who was not too thrilled about finding room for it in the freezer. The good news is that our fire department won the Woodchuck Challenge once again this year. (They are the 2006 champions.) All that training paid off. I also ran into Tiger Skidmore who left town about eight years ago. (I grew up with his father, Sonny.) Tiger used to wear six-guns strapped to his waist; these days he has settled down to work as a dispatcher for a trucking company and is a highly respected volunteer firefighter. As the story goes, he was about to walk down the aisle at his own wedding when his beeper went off, so he got up to leave since he always answered the call! Friends persuaded him to stay put.

That's about it from the Green Mountains. Enjoy the fine weather and the fresh strawberries.


Christopher Kimball
Founder and Editor
America's Test Kitchen

Crockpot Carnitas Pool Party

Our Wall-e comes with pork.

Out of all our wedding gifts, one of the ones I was most excited about was the crockpot. Ray and Fran got it for us. Ever since our resident BBQ experts, Pat and Heather Roach, moved back to Austin, I’ve been jonesing for good backyard BBQ. Pat taught me how he slow smokes his ribs and brisket and tri-tip—I thought I was a good student—but I’ve been unable to come anywhere near Pat’s creations. I think I nailed it once, had a couple average pieces, and a couple of complete failures. I was assured that using a crockpot would yield similar results with less mess and less cleanup. I’m not done smokin’, but after this first attempt with the crockpot, I’m sold on it.

The model Ray got us was the Hamilton Beach six-quart slow cooker, which I believe was rated by Bon Appetit as the best they tested. Tania immediately wrote an email thanking them for the gift.

“We don't want any fucking thanks,” Ray replied. “We want to make sure you put a seasoned pork shoulder roast in there... covered to the rim in sauerkraut... set that shit on low for 8 hours. That's what we want!! and don't forget the fresh ground black pepper on top!! And for Christ sakes resist the urge to open the lid. It's a sin to open the fucking lid until it's done!! mouth is watering.”

The girls are really into their floaty noodles. They started this bizarre merry-go-round thing where they bounced around in a circle blowing water out their asses while simultaneously laughing their asses off.

Blow it out your ass!

1 4-lb pork shoulder (boston butt)
1/4 cup chicken stock
4 or 5 onion hockey pucks
1 large jalapeno
1/4 lemon
handful of cilantro
salt, pepper and cumin to taste.

We used the six-quart bowl in the Hamilton beach crockpot. Our pork shoulder weighed about 4.25 lbs and it just fit. (It was only six bucks, I can’t believe how something so awesome could come from something so cheap.) I put the onion pucks on the bottom, as well as the cilantro and the jalapeno, and just plopped the seasoned shoulder on top. Squeezed the lemon over it and dropped that in. Then I poured the chicken stock in. While there wasn’t much variation between the other recipes I looked at online (except in the seasonings…basically you throw whatever the hell you want on it), the one major difference I noted between all was on the subject of liquid. Some people threw a beer in, some stock, but others insisted on no liquid at all. The latter’s philosophy being, I believe, that the pork will render enough fat liquid to keep the meat moist. In the end, Tania thought a little chicken stock would be a good idea. But we didn’t use much: about a half inch deep.

It was midnight when I put the lid on and turned the knob to “low.” Then went to bed. I awoke a couple times in the night to check on my li’l bebbie just sitting there bubbling away in its juices. It had indeed gained more liquid which had crept up the side of the meat. I was worried we fucked up with the broth. I wanted to lift the lid so bad, but all I could hear was ray’s voice, “It's a sin to open the fucking lid until it's DONE!…done…done……dooooone…” I left it alone and went back to bed. At 8 am, I awoke to the timer beeping. I got up and looked at it through the lid. “Ah bebbie, how you doing?” I couldn’t decide whether to go for the full ten hours, or check it then. I decided to check it.

Sharan gives Pearl an eau-gasm.

I opened the lid and was consumed by pig steam. Ahhhh, it smelled good. I took a fork and gently poked it. It jiggled and my fork sunk into the meat with no resistance. I lifted a forkful easily off the top and took a bite. I was astounded. Not only was it done, but it was perfectly moist and juicy and had perfect flavor. WOO HOO! CARNITAS!

We took the pot of pork to Sharan’s house that afternoon for her pool party. The nearest outlet we could find was in the lobby for the elevator. So that’s where we plugged her in. I think that might be one of the best photos I’ve ever taken: “Crockpot Filled With Pork in Apartment Elevator Lobby.” I’m surprised no one stole them. I hissed at the maintenance guy who vacuumed a little too close to the carnitas. He looked like some burnout from the 80s hair bear metal scene. He was like 50, but he was still rocking the dyed black coif. I bet he was the bass player in Cinderella or something.

Our gracious and classy host, Sharan… shooting her load all over her face.

Anyway, when the meat warmed up, we served it with little homemade tortillas (dude, we found the best Mexican grocery store on York Blvd.), onion and cilantro, queso fresca, and some hot sauces. I’m not saying they were the best carnitas ever, but as Gabe said, “You nailed it.” And Gabe is Mexican.

Gabe (brown), Scott (white).

Although some wetback once called him a whiteback, so I’m not sure how reliable his critique is. But I think everyone agreed with Gabe because within a couple hours, the bowl was empty. It looked like it had been licked clean.

Hail the crockpot! And thank you Ray and Fran.

My wife, Tania, blows her own load all by herself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hockey Party, Part One: The Mustard

Our annual Gentleman’s Beer Drinking Club end-of-year party was last Saturday at Wes’ house. While I haven’t won in a long time, the party has been at the Stanford Manor every year because, well, we have a little more elbow room. It’s someone else’s victory party, but we have to host the fuckin’ thing. Gay. This year, however, Wes finally won the Gentleman’s Cup and got to hold the much-anticipated party in his San Pedro backyard. As it states in the rules on the back of the Gentlemen’s cards, “The owner of the winning Stanley Cup team has to throw a party for the losers with a keg, meat, ice cream and it better be fun.” Wes has been threatening for the last couple years to have a spectacular spread, and he did: he rented us a Mexican lady to make us tacos. But more on the Hockey Party and the tacos in the next post. This post is about the mustard tasting that went down at the beginning of the Hockey Party.

When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to Candlestick Park every Sunday to watch the Giants play. I would religiously bring my mitt and my scorebook to every game. Like a complete nerd, I sat in my little orange seat scribbling down every play, all the while hoping a foul ball would fall in my glove. Unfortunately, our seats were only ten rows behind home plate, and during the half dozen years we went to games, only one foul ball came anywhere near us. The lady with the mustache in front of us had never caught a ball either. I’ve since lost interest in baseball altogether, but there is one thing from our Candlestick visits I still cheer for: mustard.

The best thing about Sundays at Candlestick was lunch: a couple of hotdogs with Guildens mustard. It wasn’t the hotdog I was interested in, it was the mustard. As most hotdog aficionados will agree, the hotdog and the bun are an integral part of the hotdog experience—the hotdog especially—but ultimately they’re just vehicles for condiments.

So I wasn’t surprised when I recently heard a “driveway story” on NPR about Cleveland’s mustard wars: “Ballpark Mustard” and “Stadium Mustard.” The story got kind of confusing at one point, but I think “Ballpark” is sold at Indians games and “Stadium” is sold at Browns games? The one thing that I am sure about is that the fans were passionate about their mustard. At times during the NPR broadcast it sounded like gang war. There was all kinds of shit talking and apparently there really is a feud between the owners of each of the mustards. I had to try ‘em.

Our friend Heather found them here: After I received a bottle of Ballpark and Stadium in the mail and began looking at the catalog that came with it, I realized I had seen this guy before.

He’s been on The Food Network. He’s a nerd who’s a maniac for mustard. He’s the Dean of Poupon U. Har har. Whatever, he has lots of mustards. They don’t, however, stock a very special mustard from Belgium that Doug brought back with him.

“Wow, if I only knew that there were other mustard fans out there,” Doug wrote in response to my BallPark vs. Stadium mustard tasting announcement, “your wedding gift would have been covered. Long story short: I love mustard. The thicker and spicier, the better. Before we went to Holland and Belgium last month, I saw in my guidebook a spot in Ghent (Belgium) that is world renowned for its mustard. They have been using the same recipe since 1759 or some shit. I knew I had to get there.”

Unfortunately Doug’s story is not a long one made short. It is a very well written story, but it is a very long story. I will try to paraphrase it.

The Johnson family made it to the town of Ghent and inquired about this ancient sacred magic mustard. The lady told him in a very thick accent that it was “15 minutes away.” Because of the heat and the baby, Doug decided to forego the journey. Later that day an opportunity arose where he could steal away, and so he asked the lady again how to get to the ancient sacred magic mustard. Which he had cleverly begun to call his “yellow whale.” Nice.

Doug writes again:

“Hey, how do I get to that mustard place,” I said. “You said it was 15 minutes away?” The lady pointed, and said, “It’s right there.” I was like, “You said 15 minutes.” She said, “I said 15 METERS,” and pointed over my shoulder, and, lo and behold, there she was: the mustard palace.

Doug entered and ordered a couple jars from the lady behind the counter. He continues:

I figured she would pull some jars out of the cabinet, but instead, she pulled out two empty jars and walked over to an oak barrel, lifted the lid, and ladled out my mustard. “Has you ever tried it?” No. “Here you go,” and handed me a spoonful of mustard goodness. WOW! Mind blowing stuff. I thanked her profusely, had a dumb smile on my face, and stumbled into the Belgium streets, mustard drunk and in love.

Doug's mustards. The ancient Belgian sacred magic mustard is on the far left.

So Doug generously brought the half jar he had left of the ancient Belgian sacred magic mustard to the mustard tasting at the Gentleman’s Beer Drinking Club party. And we tasted the mustards. Now to make a long ending short, the results of the mustard tasting:

1. Doug’s ancient Belgian sacred magic mustard won hands down. Every one of our dozen tasters ranked it number one.

2. Surprisingly, Ballpark mustard came in second. I say “surprisingly” because I preferred Stadium to Ballpark. The Clevelanders on the radio had described Ballpark as “sweeter.” Neither mustard is anything close to sweet, but side by side, Ballpark is less tangier, less sour. Hence “sweeter.”

3. I prefer the Stadium mustard as did a couple of the other tasters, but Ballpark was the hands down favorite between the two Cleveland mustards. I, however, would recommend the ancient Belgian sacred magic mustard that you can only get out of a barrel in Ghent.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'm a Professional Food Writer!

That was the article that started all this. Our friend, and former Big Brother contributor, Josh Tyson, lives in Denver now and is an editor at Dining Out Magazine. He wondered if I wouldn't be interested in contributing. I said, sure. And as we got talking, I realized that Tania and I have a ton of food stories. This one on Bouchon, and the boudin blanc that Keller serves there, was the first to be published. (The actual printed article is above, but my "uncensored" version is below. It was weird when I got it in the mail and saw the illustration that my old friend, and Thrasher contributor, Michael Seiben did of me. Not sure where the zombie-like stare and marble mouth came from, but I like the coat.) I thought this would be a good starting point for Food on Drunk.

I used to hate Las Vegas. I don’t have much interest in gambling, but I’d find other ingenious ways to destroy myself. My hangovers lasted weeks. But a few years ago my wife, Tania, showed me another side of Vegas and I’ve since come to love the city. I think it was the Star Trek bar at the Hilton that pushed me over the edge. “This place is retarded!” Where retarded equals awesome. And while the adult playground aspect of it is still very attractive, the real reason we go now is because of the food.

We’re food nerds. We watch all the cooking shows, from Emeril to that bald-ass granny, Lidia, on PBS. No Rachel Ray, though. Hate, hate, hate. The food is certainly interesting on any given program, but I think the real reason we enjoy cooking shows is because they’re so soothing. They’re the perfect thing to zone out to. Absolutely nothing happens and every show is exactly the same: they boil some water, cook some stuff and at the end it all tastes awesome.

But what does the food really taste like? That’s where Vegas comes in. You can go there and find out because it’s a foodie mecca. Every celebrity chef in the world has a restaurant somewhere on the strip. Who isn’t curious about Emeril’s food? Is it actually good? On my first visit to his restaurant, the answer was no. It sucked. Want to know what celebrity chef is actually really good? Thomas Keller. I have declared his restaurant, Bouchon, at the Venetian, my favorite restaurant in the world.

We’ve been to Bouchon twice now, and both times I have had the most astounding meal ever. “What are you going to get this time?” I asked Tania as we sat at the bar on our second visit. Game plan.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but something good, because last time I fucking biffed it with the chicken.”

Biffed it? I was as astounded as she was that those words came out of her mouth. “How old are you again?” I asked.

But she did biff it on that first visit because across the table from her and her boring ass chicken, in front of me, on my plate, was the most amazing dish on the menu: boudin blanc sausage.

“Oh my God,” I said after my first bite, “you gotta try this.” Tania took a bite and had the same reaction. “Whoa!”

“I think this might be the best sausage I have ever had in my life,” I said. Tania, who is not easily impressed, agreed.

I called the waitress over to congratulate her for serving the best sausage ever. “But what is it?” I asked.

She explained that “boudin blanc” means “white pudding” in French. Presumably because the little baby pigs and chickens they mush up and cram into the casing have the consistency of pudding. Which is due in part to the milk, cream and brandy they mix in as well. It produces a velvety texture that practically melts in your mouth. The flavor is subtle, but extremely pleasant. It tastes like what it looks like: white sausage.

“We get it from a supplier in San Francisco called Marcel et Henri,” she told us.

Oh, so Mr. Hot Shot Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller doesn’t even make his own boudin blanc? “Looks like I’m going to be playing a little celebrity chef,” I said to myself.

So when I got home I visited to order me some boudin blanc. Unfortunately their site didn’t have any internet order buttons. “But I want to give you money!” So I called Marcel et Henri and I talked to a Marcel, or an Henri, or some woman who sounded like a Marcel or an Henri, and she told me they don’t ship any of their products because of the cost of dry ice, and Fedex, and because they’re French. She was very helpful, though, and put me in touch with a SoCal supplier. Whom I called. He turned out to be a crazy French man with an OOOOOUTRAGEOUS FRANCH ACK-SANT! I could barely understand him, but I gathered that he didn’t sell to the public. Plus he was about to go on vacation and could not be bothered with the likes of me. I made a couple more half-hearted attempts to get a hold of some Marcel et Henri boudin blanc, but to no avail.

I had almost given up on it when I noticed that the Italian deli in our town (Glendale), Mario’s (it’s often written up, and for good reason), sold Marcel et Henri’s blood sausage. A couple “special order” conversations, and a few weeks later, I had 15 links of boudin blanc in my fridge. The question then was, “How do I cook it?” and more importantly, “If it comes out good, am I as good a chef as Thomas Keller?”

Fortunately we own his cookbook, Bouchon, and the recipe for the boudin blanc is in the book. Easy enough. I just browned some butter, added a little salt, pepper and sage, and cooked each side for about five minutes. I didn’t bother making the plum sauce they serve with it at Bouchon, but I did make the mashed potatoes. And it was identical: sausage heaven.

A simple question, a couple phone calls, and I’m making world-class cuisine in my own kitchen. It kind of made me think, “Wow, I never need to go to Vegas again.” But I do. We haven’t been to Bobby Flay’s “Mesa Grill” and, I hate to admit it, but I need to know what that asshole’s food tastes like.